The early 11th century was a time of tumult, growth and expansion in medieval Europe. The Christian church had become the most powerful influence in the lives of the people. It defined law, social expectation and intellectual pursuit and created perceptions about the meaning of life and death in the minds of nearly every person on the continent. The Church was intertwined with the legal and governing systems, and at the very least influenced, but normally had direct authority over who would be a lord, who would be nobility and who would be king. At the time of the first crusade in 1096, the only non-Christian religious sect which was tolerated in Europe was Judaism, but even they were daily being persecuted by the ruling Christian government. The first crusade took European knights (mainly French) all the way to Jerusalem, slaying anyone and everyone, including innocent women and children and capturing the Holy Land for The Christian Church. This set the tone for what would ultimately become 200 years of war and terror, mainly in the Middle East but technically all over the western region of the world. Fighting wars for the Christian God became a lifestyle and a mentality. It was around the end of the 13th century that the desire and vision of the crusades had finally played itself out. The ultimate goal of the crusades, to secure and maintain influence and control for the Christian Church in the Holy Land was a dismal failure and, in fact, the last four Crusades were fought without Papal support. While the Christian presence in the Holy Land did not hold for long, the crusades certainly had an effect on the perceptions of the people involved. These wars, while mainly destructive and ultimately non-productive, fostered an exchange between the west and east that clearly molded the world views and intellectual pursuits of the people of the east and west. The mixture of the Muslim and Christian cultures caused people of these backgrounds to investigate their counterpart ways of living and observing life. Language, foods, clothing and lifestyle were altered through this extended contact with the other.
The first crusade was instigated by Pope Urban II at the council in Clermont. He was addressing the nobility present, but expected that his message would be spread far and wide. He was calling to arms all of those devout in the Christian faith, decrying the Muslim expansion by the Turks, warning that if these good Christians did not fight they too would be condemned and promising the reward of forgiveness and eternal life to all of those who would obey. “Remission of sins will be granted for those going thither, if they end a shackled life either on land or in crossing the sea, or in struggling against the heathen. I, being vested with that gift from God, grant this to those who go.” While the pope’s speech eloquently outlined the pious reasons to fight this crusade, the realistic reasons for inciting and following such a movement were quite different. The crusades were mainly fought by medieval knights who for some time had been flooding the population of Europe and causing an undue amount of contention within society. The Church saw the crusade as a way to get these young nobles out of Europe and stop the infighting at once. From the soldier’s points of view, traveling to a far off land in the name of God was an amusing way to gain status, build their monetary worth or possibly be granted title- all with the promise of being forgiven any sin that they may be forced to commit in serving their God.